Review : Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know
PitchforkLaura Marling's music feels timeless. I don't mean "timeless" in the sense that people refer to, say, Adele or Duffy as timeless, when really they're really just evoking a very specific time that happens to be distant. Marling evokes other artists, too, but they're spread out over the past five decades of pop and rock, from Joni Mitchell, Fairport Convention, and Leonard Cohen to Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, and PJ Harvey. Still, her songs feel divorced from time, lacking clues or signposts to indicate whether her stories and scenes might be set 500 years ago or yesterday. Marling's first two albums were noteworthy in large part for their precociousness. Her newest is A Creature I Don't Know, and it's her first that can't benefit from stunning you with its level of maturity. This is simply who Marling is right now-- an artist deeply invested in archetypes, one who doesn't muck about with the details of 21st-century life in her explorations of desire, loss, and understanding.
Certainly it's a brave artistic approach, this notion of wrestling with only the most primal states of being and ignoring all the fleeting fads and noise that make up the rest of our world. At the same time, such a large part of songwriting is making human connections, and often with Marling it's not entirely clear whether these songs are springing forth from a 21-year-old Englishwoman or some deathless, wandering spirit. Her reliance on heavily symbolic language and lack of interest in putting more of her personality into her compositions creates frustrating paradoxes: Her music's intimate yet distant, earthy yet seemingly not of this earth.
That said, the success of each song on A Creature I Don’t Know hinges on how well Marling inhabits the role she's given herself. Fortunately, while she may not be a particularly revealing performer, she's an extremely commanding one. Marling's tendency is to be stark and direct, and her presence carries equal weight whether she's accompanied by little more than piano (the unnervingly hushed, death-obsessed "Night After Night") or a churning guitar malestrom (the Neil Young-worthy "The Beast"). On "The Muse", "Salinas", and the Zeppelin III-goes-hoedown single "Sophia", Marling's scarily impressive self-possession actually spills over into a kind of wickedly controlling glee, as she adds domineering theatrical flourishes to certain words and phrases in a manner that comes reasonably close to matching Harvey during her mid-1990s reign. Marling may spend the majority of these songs and several others struggling to find wisdom and peace in the face of trials brought on by lust, money, and death, but she almost always sounds like she already has all the answers....full text
GuardianAn air of inquiry suffuses Laura Marling's third album, a mood of experimentation as cerebral as it is playful. Opening song The Muse is like nothing she has released before: swaggering and brassy, with her voice pulling angular shapes across saloon-jazz piano and tight brush drums. Salinas and Rest in the Bed are like miniature western movies, with spit and sawdust in the guitar and banjo lines, melodrama in the backing vocals and Marling squinting at a relentless sun as her characters glare fate in the face. As on last year's I Speak Because I Can, Marling can sound curiously dispassionate, slurring the chorus of Don't Ask Me Why, maintaining a studied cool at the start of Sophia as she murmurs: "Where I have been lately is no concern of yours." But when Sophia unfurls into a glowing country romp, the distance between her and us suddenly shrinks – and the feeling is exhilarating....full text
TelegraphLaura Marling’s third album is so confident in its dark accomplishment that I had to check and double check her age. But yes, the Hampshire-born singer-songwriter, who won the British female solo artist award at this year’s Brits and already sounds like a mid-period Joni Mitchell, is still only 21.
Like Mitchell, Marling started out as part of a “new folk” scene (which includes Mumford & Sons and Noah & the Whale) but has increasingly struck out alone into a starker, stranger and more jazz-inflected musical landscape. Like Mitchell, she stakes her claim to this territory with muscular, literate lyrics and idiosyncratic guitar tunings (she says this time she’s used “DGDGBD — but the B string, if you make it B flat then it’s minor and if you make it A then it’s a seventh. It’s quite a hard tuning”).
And, like Mitchell, she’s constantly questioning this drive to walk away from comfortable situations: “Gotta leave you alone, gotta hand on my back/ Why can’t I live and just be?/ I’m full of guilt.” A Creature I Don’t Know opens with a disconcerting narrative called The Muse, in which the singer encounters: “a man who talked to me so candidly/ More than I’d choose… I feel again the bruise/ of longing ever longing to be confused”. He turns out to be “the beast”. A perky, barnyard banjo keeps plucky pace while an insistent cello hook spirals forebodingly downward.
The song kick-starts the album’s powerful sense of forward motion, of a woman struggling to wrestle free from expectations, relationships and religious convention. While her phrasing – especially its dry, downward plunges – is pure Mitchell, her allusive lyrical world of devils and saviours, sleights of hand and bad behaviours is more indebted to Bob Dylan. As is her ability to drive a tough, moral narrative into a compelling dirge.
At the album’s centre is a gaping monster mouth of a song called The Beast, which swallows almost six minutes of angry electric guitar. There are pretty, acoustic moments too, as Marling works her way through what she has described as “the difficult balance between wanting and needing”. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has that age-old problem licked before she’s 22, though....full text
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